How to Become a Physical Therapy

How To Becoming a Physical Therapist
How To Becoming a Physical Therapist

Become a Physical Therapy requires years of education and training in kinesiology, anatomy, biology, and physical fitness. Many physical therapists also receive extensive training in patient psychology to better understand and help clients cope with the emotional challenges associated with a physical ailment. As with most careers, the path to success can take many different forms.

In physical therapy, what courses should an undergraduate take prepare? Do aspiring therapists need to complete a residency? The following guide answers questions like these and offers a detailed insight into the various academic paths one can take to become a physical therapist.


Should I Become a Physical Therapist?

Physical Therapist
Physical Therapist

Physical therapists help people who are living with physical injuries and illnesses by treating their pain and, in some cases, leading them on the road to recovery. Physical therapists might work with patients who have had surgery, been in an accident, or experienced a sports-related injury, such as a strain or sprain.

They might also work with patients with chronic conditions, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, or after-effects of stroke. A physical therapist’s duties include assessing patient conditions, setting up treatment plans, and evaluating patient progress.

Physical therapists generally work on a full-time basis in nursing homes, hospitals, or private clinics. Some evening or weekend hours might be required. Physical therapists spend most of their working hours on their feet, and physical strength and stamina are needed. There is a risk of injury, such as back pain.


Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctorate
Salary$84,020 (2015 median for physical therapists)
Key Skills Communication, interpersonal, and medical diagnostic skills; attention to detail; compassion; dexterity and physical stamina
Degree Field Physical therapy
ExperienceResidency available after DPT program
Licensure/CertificationStates require licensure; the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) offers voluntary certification

A doctorate of physical therapy (DPT) is needed to work as a physical therapist, and states require that physical therapists be licensed. Additionally, the Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers voluntary certification in the field. Following a DPT program, individuals can complete a residency.

These professionals should have strong attention to detail, as well as good communication and interpersonal skills. Medical diagnostic skills, compassion, dexterity, and physical stamina are also needed. According to 2017 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapists earned a median salary of $84,020.


How to Be a Physical Therapist


1. Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program

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Happy group of students in their graduation smiling.

Students can prepare for a DPT program by earning a bachelor’s degree in a science- or exercise-related area. DPT programs typically require applicants to complete undergraduate courses in physics, biology, anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. Also, because DPT programs usually require that students have a certain grade point average for admission, individuals must perform well in their bachelor’s degree program.

Additionally, many DPT programs give preference to applicants who have experience in the field. At the undergraduate level, you might have the opportunity to work with collegiate athletes or volunteer at a physical therapy clinic.


2. Enroll in a Doctor of Physical Therapy Program

A DPT program is a 3-year commitment that prepares students to work in the field by providing them with academic coursework and clinical experiences. Courses in a DPT program typically cover basic and clinical sciences, professional development, and healthcare systems management.

Examples of courses include neuroscience, movement science, physical modalities, clinical geriatrics, clinical case management, psychosocial adaptation to injury and illness, and physical therapist procedures. Clinical experience allows students to begin working with patients in a professional environment.

Interested students might consider a combined B.S./DPT program. Some colleges and universities offer a combined program that allows students to earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy in six years. A bachelor’s degree generally is awarded in a field like biology or sports science.


3. Participate in a Residency

Physical Therapist Residency
Physical Therapist Residency

Following a DPT program, aspiring physical therapists can complete a residency program that includes coursework and clinical experiences. A residency can also allow individuals to begin specializing in an area of physical therapy, such as orthopedics or neuroscience.


4. Obtain Licensure

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How To Prepare For LSAT Exam

Physical therapists must earn licensure in the state where they intend to work. To become licensed, physical therapists must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination or a similar state-level exam.


5. Earn Certification

Doctor of Physical Therapy
Doctor of Physical Therapy

Voluntary certification is available through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) in several areas, such as sports, women’s health, geriatrics, neurology, and pediatrics. The certification allows experienced physical therapists to demonstrate their knowledge and skills to prospective clients and employers.

Candidates for certification must be licensed, and they must have at least 2,000 hours of clinical practice in their specialty area. A quarter of these hours must have been recorded within the previous three years. Additionally, each specialty certification requires that physical therapists pass an exam.

To summarize, aspiring physical therapists need a doctor of physical therapy degree and must obtain licensure in their state.